When it comes to “quick and easy” gifts, turners have an advantage over most woodworkers. This simple project can be “turned out” in an afternoon or evening, and it lends itself to production work. The Counter Cat is a great cook’s companion, holding those recipes and instructions above any spills or splatters that hit the countertop. Once you get all the steps set up, you’ll find you can make a half dozen of these gifts in a day.
Aside from turning, the skills necessary to complete one of these projects are pretty basic. Get started by selecting the wood you want to use: a 2" x 2" x 6" blank for the body and a 2" x 2" x 4" scrap for the head.
Creating the Body
Mount the body blank onto the lathe, holding one end with your scroll chuck and supporting the other end with the tailstock. For your chuck, it may be necessary to turn a tenon on one end first.
Rough the blank down into a cylinder, leaving it as large as feasible. Remove the tailstock and round off the ends, leaving enough to support the blank at the headstock.
The cat’s body should be about 4-1⁄2" long with a sausage-like shape slightly bulging at the center. Sand and part it off. Carefully make a flat area on the body by sanding or cutting. This will be the bottom or belly.
Secure the body for drilling holes. At the tail end, centered and close to the top, drill a 1/4"-diameter hole 3/8" deep for the tail. At the head end, drill a 3/8"-diameter hole 5/8" deep, centered and about 45° above the horizontal axis. For the feet, drill two 1/2"-diameter holes 3/8" deep and about 1/4" apart on the front end of the body, sloping slightly downward near the end of the flat area.
Round off the end of a 1/2" dowel and color it black with a marker or shoe dye. Cut off a 3/4" piece from the end to make one foot, and repeat. Trial fit the feet into the holes in the body. When placed on a flat surface, you want the feet to slightly raise that end of the cat. Adjust as needed and glue the feet into place. After the glue is set, place the body on sandpaper on a flat surface and sand the feet flush with the bottom of the body. Now clamp the body securely against the miter gauge of your band saw, using the flat bottom for positioning. Cut five slots into the back of the body for holding recipes or notes. Start them about 1-1⁄2" back from the front, angling them about 30° backward. Cut about halfway through.
Turning the Head
Mount the head blank in the chuck and rough it down to a cylinder, rounding off the end, as shown on the next page. Turn a sphere that is 1/8" to 1/4" smaller than the body’s diameter. Leave a tenon next to the chuck that is 3/8" in diameter and 1/2" long. The shape of the sphere is not really critical (ever see a cat with a perfectly round head)? Sand well and part it off.
Test fit the head tenon in the hole in the body. Allow clearance between the end of the tenon and the bottom of the hole for excess glue. With the head in place, use a soft pencil to mark the locations for the eyes, nose and ears.
Remove the head and secure it for drilling. Bore two 1/4" holes 3/8" deep for the ears, two 3/16" holes 1/8" deep for the eyes and one for the nose that is 3/8" diameter and 3/8" deep.
Using a black marker, darken the two eye sockets. Round off the end of a 3/8" dowel for the nose. Color it black and cut it off to 1/2" long. Glue it in place.
Creating Ears and Tails
Now it’s time to make a paper template for the ears. Cats’ ears are leaf-shaped and pointed. The point of the ear should be slightly offset from center. The “stem” should be about 3/8" wide so that the ears will be cupped when inserted into their mounting holes. Cut out the template and label it “R” for the right ear. Turn it over and label it “L” for the left ear. Cut out and form the template into an arc, placing the template into the appropriate ear hole in the head. The ears should be held in a cupped shape by the narrow ear hole with the cupped surface toward the nose. Be sure that “R” is toward the nose for the right ear and the “L” for the left ear. The points of the ears should be toward the center of the head. Adjust the template until your cat “looks right.”
Find yourself some thin leather (mine came from an old billfold) and identify which side you want facing the front of the cat. Transfer the template shapes onto the leather, and cut out both ears using scissors or a craft knife. Glue the ears into place.
Cut a 1/4"-wide strip of leather for the tail. Adjust the length as desired. Glue it into the tail hole in the body of the cat.
Next, find some material for the whiskers, leaving them long to ease handling. I used a few broom straws, which worked great. Secure the cat in a padded vise with the face in a convenient position and lightly mark the positions for three whiskers on each side. Using a rotary cutter or similar tool, cut short grooves at each mark.
Now spritz the grooves with CA accelerator, and drip a small amount of glue onto one end of each whisker. Place them into their prepared grooves. The CA glue will rapidly cure to hold the whiskers in place. Repeat for the other whiskers. Trim the whiskers to an even and appropriate length.
Wipe on clear lacquer or an equivalent finish to complete your recipe holder.